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Utah's first state flag finally found

By Michael De Groote

Deseret News

Published: Monday, March 8 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

Flag historians, enthusiasts and curators from the state Capitol, Fort Douglas Museum and an LDS Church history representative gather around Utah's first state flag.

Stuart Johnson, Deseret News

Utah had a problem in 1903.

The St. Louis World's Fair had invited the state to participate in a parade of states. The parade was only few months away, and Utah was unprepared: It had no state flag.

Utah's first governor, Heber M. Wells, needed a flag fast, so he asked for help from Julia P.M. Farnsworth, regent of the Utah State Society of the Daughters of the Revolution.

The Daughters of the Revolution — a who's who of turn-of-the-19th-century Utah women — raised money by $1 donations and contracted with the ZCMI art department to make the flag. Agnes Teudt Fernelius, an immigrant from Goteborg, Sweden, embroidered the state seal with white thread on blue homespun Utah silk.

On May 1, 1903, in St. Louis, the delegation from the Union's youngest state marched proudly with the flag in the parade of states. The delegation, which included President Joseph F. Smith of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Sen. Reed Smoot, Gov. Wells and others, had met earlier where the World's Fair, officially known as the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, would take place the next year. A photograph was taken of the delegation standing around the flag where the Utah pavilion would be built.

More than a century later, in 2008, Ronald Fox found the photograph of the flag. Fox is a history buff and an indefatigable artifact hunter. Like a pit bull, he latched onto the idea of finding the flag.

The Utah State History department didn't have a record of the flag. Fox looked everywhere: The Daughters of Utah Pioneers, the LDS Church's collections, Fort Douglas Museum and the museum at the former state Capitol in Fillmore.

As Fox researched, he learned that it wasn't until March 9, 1911 — 99 years ago Tuesday — that the 1903 flag was declared by the Legislature as the official state flag of Utah.

Fox met flag expert John Hartvigsen in December 2009. Hartvigsen remembered seeing a beautifully embroidered 1922 Utah flag in the Utah State Historical Society Museum's collection. Fox knew that the 1922 flag wasn't listed in the museum's index of cataloged items. "That led me to believe that (the 1903) flag was there," Fox said.

Fox decided to go back to the beginning of his search and called Philip F. Notarianni, Utah State history director. Notarianni agreed to make a thorough search.

A few days later, in early February, Fox received a call from Michele Elnicky, a curator at the museum. Her team had found the flag. It had been inside a box that had been placed inside another box long before their cataloging system had been implemented.

The 1903 blue-and-white flag's reign as Utah's official flag was short-lived. After President Theodore Roosevelt announced plans for the USS Utah, a full-color flag was created for the battleship. That design, with minor changes, became the new Utah state flag by legislative decree in 1913.

The 1903 flag continued to be used as a "governor's flag" for about a decade. It was eventually retired to a box in the state archives, donated to the historical society, misplaced inside another box and lost to memory.

When Fox ended his two-year search, he could see that the flag's blue homespun Utah silk was torn in many places and in need of conservation and restoration work. Agnes Teudt Fernelius' intricate 107-year-old embroidery, however, was still in perfect condition.

Utah's first flag will be shown to the public for the first time in decades today from 1 to 3 p.m. at the state Capitol during the announcement of an exhibit titled "Utah in the Union: The Story of the 45th State."

Utah state flag facts:

1896: State seal designed by Harry E. Edmunds and C. M. Jackson.

1903: First Utah flag is embroidered with white thread on Utah homespun blue silk.

1913: Wm. H. Horstmann Co. makes a Utah flag for the USS Utah battleship — and adds, without instructions, a gold circle around the state seal.

1922: Emma W. "Dolly" McMonegal creates beautiful multicolored embroidered flag of Utah. She forgets to put the year 1847 on the flag and has to add it later below the shield. All current Utah flags are based on this version of the flag — even though state law requires 1847 to be on the shield, not below it.

2010: Paul Swenson of Colonial Flag donates funds to have the 1903 Utah flag conserved and restored.

e-mail: mdegroote@desnews.com

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